I remember the exact moment when my purpose for working with children came into sharp focus. In 2010, I was sitting, by myself in a room full of strangers, at a NAEYC conference waiting to hear about anger and it's power. The speaker was Tamar Jacobson, speaking about her book, Don't Get so Upset: Help young children manage their feeling by understanding your own. Little did I know that the trajectory of my career would take a huge pivot and become deeply rooted in building meaningful connections and positive relationships with any child I met.
Tamar spoke about all her research and experience as an early childhood educator. Her stories were beautifully told, filled with inspiration. I sat at the table for 3 hours and when it was over I had filled about 6 pages front and back of notes, and I wanted even more! Finally, validation in the work that I was so passionate about. Finally, some one truly got it. Finally, I understood why it was so important for me to do the work that I do.
During her presentation, Tamar introduced the group into a discussion of punishments vs discipline. She asked us all to initially write down ways we were "disciplined" as a child. Then she asked if anyone was brave enough to read their list. People shared that they were spanked, yelled at, put in time out, and even burned with a cigarette. Once the group settled down, she engaged us in her belief that those were all punishments. To be truly disciplined means to look at all aspects of how you were lead as a child. Every interaction when you were a child, not only the negative. This is your discipline. A-ha! Something clicked into place for me. It wasn't just about the destination- it was about the journey.
Tamar explained how she empowers children through their failures. Walking them through the process of correcting poor behavior by modeling, staying with them through the process. She explained her belief on wearing toddlers under 18 months on her back after they hit or bite. After a child would hit or bite, she would put them on her back, piggy back style, and verbally walk them through the steps of taking care of the hurt friend, labeling that she was keeping everyone safe through the process. She would say:
"I need to keep you and the other children safe, so I will put you on my back while we take care of our hurting friend."
I love this approach and the idea of keeping the aggressor close to you in the process of rebuilding. (Maybe not the piggy back style, but I get her point!) Mistakes and accidents will always happen and showing children how to get themselves out of the situation is empowering. Labeling the actions as "keeping everyone safe" helps teach children WHY you do not want them to hit. By keeping your anger in control you are introducing the concept of what safe is and why it's important.
I was introduced to Haim Ginott's work during her talk. I learned about his extensive work as a teacher, psychologist and psychotherapist. I heard the words "respect" and "dignity" used all throughout. I really understood that to make a deeper connection with children, it requires the adult to stay intentional and in control of themselves first.
"I've come to the frightening conclusion that I am the decisive element in the [room]. My personal approach creates the climate. My daily mood makes the weather. As an [adult], I possess a tremendous power to make a child's life miserable or joyous. I can be a tool of torture or an instrument of inspiration. I can humiliate or humor, hurt or heal. In all situations, it is my response that decides whether a crisis will be escalated or de-escalated and a child humanized or dehumanized."
This quote touched my soul. I wrote it down immediately. I must have read it about 500 times, just over and over, letting it sink in, releasing the need for control over children and embracing the role as the weather maker. It was up to me to help teach the children about their emotions and how to move through them, opposed to denying and shaming them. I was ready to fully embrace my role when working with children.
This has become my personal check in. When I start to feel overwhelmed and out of control I will revisit this quote and feel empowered to push the reset. If I am going to enjoy the children in my care- I first need to be in control of myself. My role is no longer to rule over the children in my care- more working WITH the children in my care.
I continue everyday to feel grateful I was in that room at that moment. Fully ready to hear and absorb the message that was being spoken about, and take it back to my everyday life.
I am the weather maker.